The game itself lasted almost four hours and had 1,200 yards of total offense combined between BYU and the Houston Cougars, and the showdown between the two best college football teams named the Cougars was as good as advertised.
BYU knocked Houston from the unbeaten ranks, 47-46, but it didn't come without plenty of drama for all involved. It had big games from unlikely players, huge plays out of thin air -- and a see-saw battle throughout.
First things first; this was definitely a game for the fans. BYU wasted little time scoring, getting an interception on the first play of the game -- and cashing in three plays and 39 seconds later for a 7-0 lead.
Houston would answer back after BYU kicked an a field goal to cut the Y Cougars' lead to 10-7. The give-and-take would continue through the first quarter, with the score in favor of BYU, 24-21. That's six touchdowns -- in less than 15 minutes.
Houston quickly got the lead back in the second quarter, however, and BYU would have put more on the scoreboard if not for three straight three-and-outs -- which helped Houston retain good field position and a 38-34 halftime lead.
The tone of the game was set early, as big play after big play was made until the referee mercilessly blew his whistle to signal the end of the first half. Even cavernous Reliant Stadium that was about at half its capacity for NFL games couldn't hold these Cougars down.
By the time that both teams sprinted into the tunnel and were gassed, you'd guess BYU fans were thinking the final score was going to be 70-65, right?
Not exactly. BYU's defense stiffened, holding Houston to zero touchdowns in the third quarter -- though the Y Cougars did allow a safety on Taysom Hill, who had over 400 yards passing for the game and two touchdowns to go with three interceptions.
A wild final quarter with which BYU got back the edge it had in time of possession in the first quarter contributed to the Y Cougars' come-from-behind win.
Up until the Y Cougars put together a drive from its own 48 with about two minutes to play it looked like Houston would remain unbeaten. But for all of the Cougars' mistakes BYU's game-winning touchdown was capped by an unlikely hero who would not only have a career high in yards receiving, he'd make the biggest play.
Here are five ways that the Cougars came back to defeat an explosive Houston team...
Most BYU fans were probably asking, "Who's this guy?" Well, to answer your question senior wide receiver Skyler Ridley has been buried on the depth chart for most of the season as the Cougars' third or fourth option. But today, he was electric, converting one big fourth down conversions, but most of his catches accounted for short yardage.
For as many big plays as the Cougars had with always entertaining Cody Hoffman -- who had 156 yards and one touchdown -- Houston had just as many receiving stars, making Bronco's life hectic.
But Ridley, who came into this all-important game with 126 yards and no touchdowns, left Reliant Stadium as not only BYU's hero but also its savior on a day when many probably expected Hoffman to carry the load, and rightfully so.
And that Cody did -- same as native Texan Ross Apo, as he had two TD's -- but none was more important than Ridley in Reliant Stadium in terms of making the biggest play, the game-winning catch, another short yardage play. But this 11-yard snatch gave BYU the win. And for the day, a career-high in yards for Ridley with 90 and the biggest TD of his life.
Avoid big plays in the second half
BYU got burned big-time in the first half, coughing up four touchdowns, each accounting for 29 yards or longer on each play. (The other was a pick six on Hill.) The UH Cougars seemed to answer every BYU touchdown in the first half -- and make this a game that Nostradamus would have had trouble predicting.
Houston had three passing TD's, a pick six and even ran a kickoff back for a TD. There were so many TD's being made that I'm sure the statistician wished he were in Tahiti.
In the second half, however, he and the rest of an ESPN audience were given a break, as Houston only scored eight points and had one big play, a 42-yard toss to wide receiver Xavier Maxwell that eventually led to UH's go-ahead touchdown at 46-41 (the UH Cougars went for two but failed.)
That really was a big difference in the game, as was the fact that BYU's defense and special teams stopped giving up those big plays that killed them in the first 30 minutes.
“Houston gave a valiant effort. Those guys tried really hard, and are very explosive and talented. We made plenty of mistakes, enough for a number of games. We were resilient enough to overcome them," said BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
On the whole, BYU still gave up a ton of yardage, allowing nearly the same number of yards in the first half as it did in the second, which tells you that the defense struggled all game long.
But, for all of the Y defensive miscues safety Mike Hague did make a highlight reel play, a 15-yard sack flying in from the BYU backfield late in the fourth quarter -- which then led to a missed field goal by Houston.
Force freshman mistakes
Houston's freshman quarterback John O'Korn was pressed into service alot earlier than even he had expected due to incumbent starter David Piland missing several games -- and finally retiring -- because of mutliple concussions.
O'Korn played well beyond his years for most of the game. Sure, he threw two interceptions. But, he managed the game well enough that he had his team within striking distance at the end -- only to come up short when he got too greedy at the end trying to throw to a receiver -- who had three BYU defenders circling around around him like Honor Code enforcers.
You can imagine what happened next -- as BYU linebacker Alani Fua got his second interception of the year at a time when BYU really needed it.
“(John) O’Korn was being aggressive and certainly felt like he had a receiver open up the seam and he was not. So, that was the end of the game," said Houston coach Tony Levine.
But O'Korn wasn't alone; there were other dumb mistakes being made...
Houston's missed field goals
When your All-American punter Richie Leone is forced into service (there's that word again) because your other kicker suffers an injury, you have to wonder what the coach is thinking.
Sure, Houston head coach Tony Levine is coming off a 5-7 season in which the UH Cougars did relatively nothing to uphold Kevin Sumlin's tradition -- though there were gobs of yardage, thanks. And Levine is a former special teams coach so he has an affinity for the position.
But how many punters can make the transition to kicking? The two techniques are vastly different. That's what Leone was forced to do. He blasted punts up through Reliant Stadium's roof, on over to Mission Control and back through the heart of downtown to the field -- except for his last one, a 38-yard shank that gave BYU great field position.
But his Waterloo was this: he missed two field goals over 40 yards that would have given the UH Cougars the victory. It's pure and simply his fault Houston didn't win this game but another facet had a hand in this win too...
Running the football
You hear it all the time in football circles. The team that controls the football the longest wins the game.
And you might think that since BYU ran 115 plays today -- tying the NCAA single-game record by the way -- that the Y Cougars were more interested in getting to the line of scrimmage and hiking the football than they were taking said pigskin and tucking it into the armpit of a running back.
That is the furthest thing from the truth because Jamaal Williams ran for 84 yards on 17 carries before going out with an undisclosed injury after halftime, never to return. Adam Hine -- who normally returns kicks for BYU -- stepped in for Williams and got 57 yards, including going for a 12-yard blast and first down on BYU's game-winning drive.
That play seemed to be the back-breaker for a Houston defense that gave up almost 900 yards Saturday, and set the scene for BYU's come-from-behind win.
There is always a catalyst, an event or situation that precedes the final act, and Hine's run was it. And Taysom Hill -- who did indeed achieve the gold standard my "Non-Believer" writing partner set forth by passing for 300 yards for the first time this year -- also bulled through the UH defense for a first down with under one minute remaining on 3rd down and 5.
He ran for a game-high 156 yards today, and that big-time run -- like his performance against Georgia Tech -- iced the game to give the Cougars a 5-2 record, with a much improved Boise State team coming to Provo on Friday night.
"Taysom Hill, I don’t know if you’ll see a gutsier performance than that. Just the mileage on his legs, the wear and tear," said Mendenhall. "Coming back from the interception and the safety just going down the field. He gave us a chance to win. That’s an amazing performance by him, and we’re lucky he’s on our team.